7 Ways to Improve Eye Contact for Children with ASD

signs of autism in newborns

When you are engaging in conversation with others, eye contact is a nonverbal action that most individuals employ without even realizing it. It’s an ingrained habit for the majority of people.

They never have to think about, practice, or exercise how to look at others, where to look, when not to look, and all of the other intricacies that come with making eye contact. If your youngster is avoiding eye contact, he or she may have autism or ASD.

However, this might also be caused by a variety of other reasons unrelated to ASD, such as hearing difficulties, social anxiety, and so on. Speak with a behavioral therapist to determine if the lack of eye contact is due to autism or ASD.

signs of autism in newborns

Why is eye contact so difficult for people with autism?

Making eye contact might be difficult for many people on the autism spectrum. As a parent, a teacher, or a therapist, it’s tough to know how to handle an issue like this when you’re caring for or working with a kid with autism who doesn’t make eye contact like typical children do.

This is especially true since, for some children with autism, making eye contact with others might cause significant anxiety and discomfort.

It may also be the case where the youngster simply prefers interacting with others rather than looking someone in the eyes. They’d much rather look at something else in their environment while communicating with the other person.

Why is eye contact significant?

Let’s look at why it’s important to have good eye contact. Eye contact may be used to facilitate communication with others.

Making eye contact with someone while conversing can let the other person know that you are paying attention and care about what they have to say. It indicates that you are paying attention because of this, as well.

Also, by making eye contact, you may pick up on certain social cues. You might use what you perceive in the form of someone’s eyes to learn more about that person’s history, such as what they are attempting to say or how they feel.

When someone is attempting to interact with you and you fail to make eye contact with them, they may feel as if you aren’t interested in what they have to say or that you are not even listening.

This is a frequent occurrence in many social situations, from a teacher not believing that a student is listening when the student isn’t looking at them to a partner feeling like their partner isn’t listening or paying attention while their spouse is looking at his phone or whatever another thing.

There are many more instances, however, where failing to make occasional eye contact with someone might be taken as disinterest, inattention, or lack of concern for the conversation partner.

How can I encourage my child to improve his or her eye contact?

There are several opinions about whether we should try to get a child with autism to make eye contact with others, if we should, and how best to assist them develop this skill.

Despite the fact that making eye contact with others may be beneficial for language and strengthening relationships, some children and adults on the autism spectrum disorder find it stressful.

When a kid feels like they are being forced to make eye contact against their will when someone is pressuring them to do so, and they aren’t wanting to do so on their own terms, making eye contact may be even more unpleasant.

Some children and adults with ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorder) may be able to learn to make eye contact in some manner, but forcing them or attempting to push them into doing so is most likely not the best approach to assist them improve their capacity and enthusiasm for making eye contact.

Looking Away While Someone Is Talking to You: An Alternative to Eye Contact

Another thing that people on the autism spectrum learn to do in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable when making eye contact is to look at anything other than the communication partner’s face while the social exchange is taking place.

Ideally, the person on the autism spectrum has an activity to do that allows them to look at something other than the conversation partner while still being able to talk and exhibit interest and focus on the other person.

When a youngster is looking at and fidgeting with something, such as a fidget toy or a pencil or doodling on a piece of paper, he or she can focus better on what the teacher is teaching.

A child playing with and looking at his toys while someone else is speaking to him is another scenario in which a person may be able to engage in social interaction more effectively even without making eye contact.

He may still take part in a discussion and demonstrate an interest in what the other person is saying, even if he isn’t looking at them and doesn’t make eye contact.

The third example of this is when two youngsters can sit side-by-side playing video games and have a conversation, but when they aren’t involved in an activity and are just sitting near each other or facing one another, the youngster is extremely uneasy and unable to contribute.

signs of autism in newborns

Consider the Case of One Child

When deciding whether or not to assist children in making eye contact with others, it’s critical to consider the child as an individual.

Consider how the child feels and what they encounter when they make an attempt to look people in the eyes. Is it frightening them? Are they uneasy?

Is it true that a child’s verbal expression is more effective when they aren’t concerned about making eye contact or attempting to make eye contact during the social interaction and, instead, are engaged in another activity?

So, again, keep in mind that teaching children on the autism spectrum to make eye contact is a delicate and sensitive issue and that you should think about why working on this is beneficial to the youngster before diving in.

When Is It Time to Work on Eye Contact with Your Child?

There are times when it’s beneficial to assist a youngster in making eye contact with others. For example, when some youngsters are absorbed in what they’re doing and another person is speaking to them while they’re engaged with it, they may not pay attention to the other person as well as if they would make eye contact.

Even simply looking at a person’s face or any other point on their face other than their eyes and then averting one’s gaze can assist the youngster focus on the conversation partner and participating in social interactions more successfully.

Behavioral Innovations’ experts can assist you assess when, how, and if your child might enhance their eye contact skills. 

How to Encourage Your Child to Make Eye Contact

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for assisting youngsters with establishing eye contact. When it comes to teaching children to make eye contact, be sure you consider their particular needs and capabilities. We’ll go through some ideas for how to deal with children with autism when it comes to eye contact.

2. Recognize and capitalize on naturally occurring instances of eye contact.

Recognizing when children naturally make eye contact with others is one approach to assisting them in doing so. You may help your child make more eye contact by offering reinforcement for times when he or she does it naturally.

You might try saying something like, “Thank you for looking at me when I was speaking,” to your youngster in an attempt to strengthen his eye contact.

3. Have Conversations About Your Child’s Favorite Topics

Another approach to encourage your child to make eye contact with you is to participate in a discussion about a topic she is interested in.

When your child talks about a subject you do not know much about, like as in the example above, look at him and join in the discussion. It’s possible that simply engaging in the conversation and demonstrating interest in what your child is discussing about his favorite topic will assist to reinforce his eye contact with you.

Your youngster should have a tendency to make eye contact, which means they should look at you at least once in a while for you to utilize this approach to encourage them to do so more often.

3. Make eye contact when modeling.

When you’re out and about with your youngster, offer a hearty smile or compliment her on her manners anytime she makes eye contact with someone. When youngsters see you and others making eye contact during talks, they are more inclined to do so when dealing with people.

If they notice you and other people looking at their phone or averting your attention away from someone who is speaking to them, they will most certainly pick up on this.

4. Change the behavior

Shaping can also help your youngster make more eye contact. This approach is also helpful for teaching your kid other forms of body language that indicate an interest in the conversation partner, attention to the speaker, and other sociable behavior norms.

To utilize shaping, you must attempt to persuade your kid to take tiny steps closer to the end goal of conversing or socializing in a way that you would want to see.

If a kid regularly looks down at the floor or whatever he or she is doing and rarely turns their face toward someone when speaking, you might try encouraging them to turn their head or body slightly toward the speaker.

Finally, if the youngster keeps their eyes lowered and not on the speaker throughout this period, encourage them to turn fully toward the speaker in order to be obedient.

After that, you may praise your child for raising their head up for a second in order to pay attention one time during the conversation.Then, attempt to get the kid to look at a section of the speaker’s face, such as their chin.

Continue this procedure until your youngster looks at the speaker’s eyes once throughout the conversation. And keep working on it until your kid can make eye contact in some manner while talking.

To prevent creating needless anxiety, remember to keep an eye on how your youngster is feeling about it.

5. Encourage Your Child to be Comfortable Making Eye Contact When Learning How

Before attempting to get your child to make eye contact with others in their daily life, such as a teacher or even a stranger like a cashier at a store, it may be advantageous to work on establishing eye contact with him or her and people he or she knows well, such as a parent or sibling.

With whom and when to improve your child’s eye contact abilities should be determined on your child’s particular requirements and experiences.

7. To encourage eye contact, stop for a moment.

You may try to get your kid to look at you and perhaps make eye contact by pausing after they ask for something. For instance, if your child asks for “juice,” wait a moment before handing it to him. If it is appropriate for him, you can encourage him to look in your direction.

7. Make Use of Visual Aids

You may also utilize visual supports to assist your child develop a liking for making eye contact with others. A visual aid could be a movement you perform to encourage your kid to look at your eyes.

To accomplish this, point your finger from the line of sight of your child toward your eye in order for him to look toward you. You may also utilize a picture icon to instruct your kid to look at someone, similar to how you might use a photo symbol to advise him to look at someone.

Making Eye Contact for Kids with ASD

In everyday life, being able to make eye contact with others might be beneficial. It isn’t always required, however. And it shouldn’t be forced on a youngster. When assisting your child in improving their capacity to look people in the eyes, be sure to think about their needs, preferences, and personalized objectives.

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